The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics
Susan Friend Harding
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2000
There was a time, maybe forty years ago, when Jerry Falwell did not believe that "waging war" against immorality was the way to turn the world around (1). The right way is to spread the Good News. He was right. Then.
So what changed his mind?
The author seems to think that rhetoric is at the bottom of this change in Christian fundamentalism and evangelism, from an isolationist, mind-your-own-business community where people stayed away from the "sinful" world to a political movement where these Christians try to fuse church and state.
The movement took hold, and it is now a detriment to both church and state. Freedom is on its last legs in this country, especially since 2000, thanks in part to the secular liberals who are also opposed to freedom, although in different areas.
It started, for Falwell anyway, in the mid 1970s. The author seems to think (2) that when Falwell read a Playboy interview with President Jimmy Carter, who was a born-again Christian but said some things in the interview that upset Falwell. Of course just being interviewed by a magazine like that was bad enough. So Falwell called a meeting of top fundamentalist ministers in an effort to determine what to do about this. I would assume that Carter's interview was seen as a symptom of the moral corruption they believed was rampaging in the country.
The upshot of the meeting was a decision to make a profound change in the fundamentalist outlook on its relationship to American culture at large. They decided to encourage Christians to become more active in the political arena to reverse the immorality trend. It is thirty years ago now that this meeting occurred, and we now know that, while moral standards have not necessarily declined, they have certainly not gotten any better as governments at all levels have become far stricter and more punitive, and laws regulating personal morality have multiplied like tribbles (3). Economic regulations and "safety" rules have been growing at a similar rate. And, of course, the more hours parents have to work to pay all the taxes needed to enforce all this, the less time they have to teach their children the difference between right and wrong.
This is not something that requires thirty years of hindsight. Many warned about this from the beginning. I saw it, and if I could figure this out thirty years ago, then I have to wonder why these people could not ... or could they?
But to get rank and file fundamentalists involved in the political arena they first had to change the way fundamentalists isolate themselves from the world at large. The fundamentalists had primarily associated with one another in order to protect themselves and their children from what they see as the anti-God aspects of society outside the faith.
The groundwork was laid to lead these rank and file believers into mass support for political goals and candidates on the grounds that this would be yet another way to do what their real job is, and that is to evangelize.
As we will see later on, Karl Rove and others whose goal, conscious or otherwise, is to further the cause of the New World Order (meaning elitist world government, under which our God-given rights are not acknowledged at all), caught the ball and ran with it. It is up to the libertarians to run interference since the Left is sidelined. In fact, as I see it, today the only true opposition to the Bush administration's policies is the libertarian movement. Only the libertarians seem to be aware of the giant steps the administration is taking toward the New World Order. That is a bigger threat than Al-Qaeda can ever hope to be, and the Christian fundamentalists, snowed by Bush, are buying into it.
So just how was the groundwork laid to mobilize fundamentalists to be politically active? Jerry Falwell gave a series of sermons in numerous large fundamentalist churches and on television, spelling out the moral depravity in the country. He called it a "war on little children" and made it plain that Christians had to fight back and turn the country around.
For the children ... it sounds like Hillary Clinton, doesn't it?
Well, in the basics it is just the same. The undercurrent was always to get involved with government and get government to act.
There was another aspect that I noticed (4) about the fundamentalist activity in the political and secular arenas, more than merely teaming up with more-liberal evangelicals. That was a loosening up or crumbling of the barrier between men's and women's "spheres." They were beginning to acknowledge, even appreciate, career women who were married and men's increased involvement with family life. I am not sure why this occurred, but it did help to mainstream fundamentalism.
The big question really is why did fundamental Christians want to become politically active in the first place? The answer seems to be that they wanted to reverse the trend of immorality and depravity, and to make the world safe to raise children in.
In Chapter 9, though, we see that this might be at odds with the Christian beliefs in the end times. Many or most fundamentalists believe that the end is near and that Christ could reappear at any moment. They believe that this will be very soon.
My own belief is that it will happen, but there is no particular reason to think it will be soon. People have been saying this for centuries. The Bible says there is no way to know any time frames.
But they believe it is soon. So my question is: If it is really that soon, what is the point in embarking on the very long and arduous task (and a futile one in my opinion) of using the government to raise the country or the world by its moral bootstraps? You will never even put a dent in the immorality, much less finish the job in time (5).
Some writers, such as Tim La Haye and Hal Lindsay (6), who are widely read among fundamentalists, began to claim that if America is to remain a world leader through the end times, then a turnaround must occur. This meant that Christians needed to jump in there and get the "right" people into high, and lower, government positions. Although I do not think they will admit it, the idea is to legislate compulsory morality, by imposing more censorship, escalating the insane war on drugs, and harassing, even closing down, businesses where gambling, stripping, and other activities considered sinful are taking place.
I have heard people say, "I don't believe in censorship, but we do have to curb smut!" But, what is "smut?" It is whatever the speaker says is smut. They often say they cannot define it, but they "know it when they see it." They do not seem to understand that it is not they who will make that decision, but it will be a politician or bureaucrat whose ideas of "smut" might be entirely different.
I used to know an atheist who believed that churches are "fraudulent" and should be forcibly shut down.
What this shows is that if we allow the government to become involved in what people are allowed to see, hear, read, and meet about, then this power will be used to further the political goals of whoever is in high office. And that official's goals might be entirely different from those whose proponents worked so hard to give the government the power the official is wielding.
(1) Harding, Susan Friend: The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2000, P. 22.
(2) Ibid. P. 128.
(3) Tribbles are a fictitious alien life-form seen on a Star Trek episode. They are adorable, furry little creatures, who increase their numbers so fast that one character remarked that they must be born pregnant. Unfortunately for us in real life, laws beget laws beget laws in much the same way.
(4) Harding, P. 172.
(5) Ibid. P. 231.
(6) Of Left Behind and The Late Great Planet Earth fame respectively.